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Pension contribution hikes locked in

School districts will be on the hook for more than half the increase.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the state budget Monday, ensuring substantial pension contribution increases for state government agencies, universities and school districts.

The budget increases overall pension contributions by $404.6 million in the 2020-21 fiscal year, an order of magnitude higher than the increase approved for the fiscal year ending June 30.

School districts account for the majority of the increase — about $233 million. Those increases are outlined in HB 5007, which the Governor is expected to sign.

The increased financial burden comes alongside DeSantis’ signature on the teacher pay raise bill, which will funnel $500 million in state money to local school districts, mostly to raise starting teacher pay, though $100 million will be used to increase salaries for veteran teachers.

Additionally, the $22.7 billion education budget lawmakers passed included a $40 increase in the base student allocation. At the time, Senate Budget Chief Rob Bradley said the bump was more than enough to cover the increase lawmakers are requiring state employees to pitch into the state retirement system.

Despite the funding windfall superintendents urged DeSantis to veto the pension bill, citing the fiscal uncertainty wrought by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The Governor, however, maintains the money is there for school districts to fulfill the pension and raise obligations.

“I wouldn’t have done it if we couldn’t make the numbers work, but I think we made them work,” he said.

DeSantis signed the pension bill on the same day he signed the state budget and issued the “veto equivalent of the Red Wedding,” slashing more than $1 billion from the state budget.

That sum, larger than anticipated, is the biggest budget veto made by a Governor in the state’s history.

As the economic realities of the pandemic began to set in over the final days of the 2020 Legislative Session, lawmakers reworked the budget to a plan worth $93.2 billion. But with tourism disappearing and back-to-back monthly revenue reports showing massive shortfalls to the tune of $1.66 billion, the apparent surplus vanished into a $1.46 billion deficit.

“We always knew that we could see an economic downturn, but I don’t think we necessarily forecast the economy simply stopping for a time,” DeSantis told reporters Monday.

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Florida Politics reporter Renzo Downey contributed to this post.

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